Habs/Pens Game 2 Preview + Live Blog at 2PM!!
Yes, that's right! After a short hiatus for game 1, TCL's series of LIVE BLOGS is back for the Canadiens' second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins! Myself, George Prax, as well as Steven Hindle form Hockeybuzz and Kamal Panesar from Habs Addict are BACK to bring you the best live coverage anywhere on the web! We will be joined by many panelists once again as we prepare to watch the Canadiens attempt to tie the series up at the Mellon Arena.
The game preview is below, but don't forget to set your reminders and join us LIVE at 1:45 for our pre-game countdown!
There are many questions to be asked as the Canadiens gear up to face the Pittsburgh Penguins this afternoon.
1- Can the Canadiens compete without Andrei Markov?
For those who missed it, Andrei Markov was the recipient of a (clean) hit from Matt Cooke early in the game Friday night. Yes, THAT Matt Cooke. Andrei Markov fell awkwardly and after a short time laying on the ice, left the rink and the game. He left the arena on crutches, unable to put weight on his right knee, and returned to Montreal for further testing. The Canadiens are calling it, of course, a "lower-body injury", but it's clear as day to anyone who saw the hit that this is a knee sprain. Canadiens fans can only pray that it's not as bad as what Mike Cammalleri suffered earlier in the year, the prognosis doesn't look too good, whether you know anything about knee injuries or not. If I had to take an educated guess, Markov will certainly be out for the entire series against the Penguins, maybe longer.
It's totally unfortunate for the Habs, and Markov, who missed a large part of the season due to a sliced tendon suffered in game 1 of the regular season. The Canadiens, as always, struggled without him, and against the Stanley Cup Champions, who have to wonder whether they'll be able to compete without him over a second round playoff series.
2- Can the Canadiens compete without Markov AND Jaroslav Spacek?
Not only is Markov likely out for the series, but Jaroslav Spacek, who played a key role early in round 1 matching up against Alexander Ovechkin, won't play today, and continues to suffer from the effects of a nasty virus that has affected his balance, among other things.
While the Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals without Spacek, can they defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins without BOTH Spacek and Markov? Jacques Martin was forced to use Marc-Andre Bergeron on defense for most of the night Friday. He was also forced to play him alongside rookie PK Subban, who would be more used to an offensive role on the blue line. Add Ryan O'Byrne to the mix, another young defender who may not be totally comfortable with defensive hockey yet, and half your blue-line is vulnerable. And with how good the pairing of Gill and Gorges has played, you can't break them up. Moreover, you can't overuse Roman Hamrlik either.
The losses of Markov and the continued loss of Spacek may be the nail in the coffin for the Canadiens.
3- How can the Canadiens take advantage of the absence of Jordan Staal?
Maybe overshadowed by Markov's injury was that of Jordan Staal's, who also left the game Friday night. Staal suffered a severed tendon when he collided with PK Subban's skate, and while an injury such as this one would normally mean that a player is out for a long time (see, once again, Andrei Markov), coach Dan Bylsma stated that Jordan Staal was out "day-to-day", following a procedure to repair the damage. Brian Metzer is saying that there are conflicting reports on Staal's injurym so only time will tell if he'll be able to come back in these playoffs or even this series.
How accurate that assessment is remains to be seen, but for now, we know that Staal won't play in this afternoon's game.
And while many will say that Staal is no Malkin or Crosby, he's a bigger loss to the Penguins than most would think. Staal is their top defensive forward, a Selke Candidate this year, along with Pavel Datsuyk and Ryan Kesler. Staal is their iron man, playing all 82 games this season and putting up the second most ice time on the team, besides Sidney Crosby (an average of nearly 19:30 per game). He is their top shorthanded player, and is in the top 10 players in terms of powerplay ice time. Staal hits, blocks shots, is defensively responsible and puts up a considerable amount of points (4th on the team in the regular season). He is the Penguins's unsung hero, and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Star thinks that if Staal is out for a long period of time, the Penguins will not be able to repeat their Stanley Cup run.
The question is, how do the Canadiens take advantage of this? Simmons thinks that this will not affect the outcome of the Penguins playoff series against the Canadiens, but then again, no one even gave them a shot. With one of their top forwards out, one that means so much to every aspect of their team, can the Canadiens take advantage? Can this help their chances on the powerplay? Does it mean more room for some of their forwards 5-on-5?
It's up to Jacques Martin to strategize, but Jordan Staal's absense is a glaring hole in the Penguins' line-up, even if it's just for a game or two.
4- What do the Canadiens need to do to improve their special teams?
While the Canadiens managed to score a powerplay goal on 4 attempts against the Penguins on Friday night, their penalty kill was a ridiculous ZERO percent in 4 attempts. For a team that could cite special teams as a major reason for their victory over the Capitals, this is unacceptable. If the Canadiens stand any chance of even winning a game against the Penguins, their penalty killing is going to have to be rock solid.
For starters, this means discipline. Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, a key offensive pairing when it comes to shorthanded situations, cannot take any penalties. They combined for 4 in game 1. Hal Gill is going to have to control himself too. While he only took one penalty late in game 1, with Markov and Spacek out, and Hamrlik on the brink of a break down, Gill is going to be the go-to guy in defensive situations in this game and beyond, and he's going to have to play like he did in the final three games of the first round series.
Obviously, shutting down the Penguins in any aspect of the game, yet alone when they have the man advantage, is easier said than done. The Capitals were fairly one dimensional when it came to their offense, while the Penguins have shown that they can adapt to the Canadiens and their attempts to shut them down.
5- Price or Halak?
While Jaroslav Halak has just been announced the starters for today's game, you have to think that this question has once again been on the minds of just about every Habs fan.
Yes, Halak is the reason the Canadiens are even facing the Penguins right now, and not on the links. Yes, he deserves the benefit of the doubt, and every chance they could possibly give him.
But if he's tired, and needs a rest, then he also deserves the rest. Coming out of Friday's game, I was almost certain that Carey Price would start game 2. And barring a 50 save performance, I would have gone right back to Jaroslav Halak for game 3 in Montreal, if I was Jacques Martin. This is exactly what happened in round 1 against the Capitals. Halak is tired, and needs a few days to replenish his juices. There would have been nothing wrong with sitting him for a game.
If I'm wrong about this, I'll admit it in tomorrow's post-game blog. But if I'm right, and Halak is tired, the blame rests solely on his shoulders for not admitting that he needed a rest, for the better of the team, as wel as on Jacques Martin and his coaching staff for not recognizing that Halak isn't the type of goalie who can start every game for you, as good as he is.
Alas, I think we all recognize that Halak is this team's #1 goaltender, and I hope that I am wrong about this.
Winning this afternoon's game will be extremely difficult. But just like anything else in this league, it is, of course, possible. The Penguins, like any other team, are beatable.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, they have obviously proven themselves to be beatable as well, despite shutting down the Capitals only last week and delivering their heads on a silver platter.
Without two of their best defensemen, with a potentially tired goaltender and a team that may be on an emotional low after everything they proved in series 1 of their playoff run, beating the Pens will be an unfortunately daunting task.
We can only hope for some good hockey this afternoon, and a split in the games when it is all said and done.
As mentioned at the top of this blog, join us at 1:45 this afternoon for today's live blog, and enjoy the game!!!